Supported by

The Atlantic Selects

A Warning From 1941: Don't Wash Laundry With Gasoline

Jan 05, 2015 | 831 videos
Video by Prelinger Archive

The Prelinger Archive dug up this campy archival film, made by the California State Fire Marshal, which warns families about the dangers of cleaning laundry with gasoline. (It's hard to believe, but gasoline was "the primary dry cleaning solvent used in the early 1900s," according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.)

The film introduces a busy housewife—who soaks her clothing in an enormous pot of gasoline, which just seems excessive, if we're being honest here—then contrasts her carelessness with the safety regulations of a professional dry cleaning business. (The business is literally named the Reputable Dry Cleaning Company.) The narrator's grim warnings conclude: "Even if she does her cleaning outdoors, there is still the greatest danger of all: the invisible menace of static electricity."

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Author: Chris Heller

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.